Following a healthy grocery list can help you navigate the supermarket aisles with ease — and it can even save you time and money. Stocking your kitchen with nutritious foods will help encourage better eating habits for the entire family.
Experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab share healthy grocery list staples that are family-friendly and versatile, and they offer tips and tricks for selecting the best items in the store and for shopping on a budget.
- Fresh fruit: apples, avocado, blackberries, grapefruit, kiwis, mangoes, oranges, plantains, raspberries, strawberries
- Fresh herbs: basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme
- Fresh vegetables: broccoli, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, yuca, zucchini
When shopping for fresh produce, look for items that are in season; they tend to be more affordable and will likely offer peak nutritional value and optimal flavor. This USDA seasonal produce guide can help you determine which picks to make.
In the spring, try asparagus, broccoli, kale and pineapple. In the summer, opt for berries, watermelon, tomatoes, peaches and plums. For the fall, try apples, grapes, kiwi, collard greens and spinach. For the wintertime, consider parsnip, carrots, leeks, pumpkin and winter squash.
Meat, meat alternatives and seafood
- Firm tofu
- Ground chicken, turkey or extra-lean (90%+) beef
- Reduced-sodium cold cuts
- Salmon, trout, whiting, anchovies, sardines, shrimp
- Skinless chicken or turkey breast
- Veggie burgers
When choosing cuts of meat, look for ones graded choice or select instead of prime, which usually has more fat. Opt for cuts with the least amount of visible fat or marbling. For fish and seafood, look for wild-caught or sustainably farmed when possible.
For meat alternatives, review the ingredient list and saturated fat counts as well. Some may have even higher saturated fat and sodium counts than the traditional meat version and may not necessarily be a healthier choice. Items like veggie burgers should consist of whole foods like legumes and vegetables.
Dairy, dairy alternatives and eggs
- Eggs (or egg alternatives)
- Grass-fed butter
- Low-fat cheese
- Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
- Low-fat or skim milk (or low-sugar milk alternative)
- Low-fat or fat-free yogurt, Greek yogurt or skyr (or non-dairy yogurt)
For items like yogurt, check the added sugar content, especially for flavored varieties and try to aim for 8 grams (the equivalent of two teaspoons) or fewer per serving. Greek yogurts and skyr typically have higher protein counts.
If you’re choosing a milk alternative, look at the ingredient list, protein content and added sugar content. Most milk alternatives have little to no protein but sneak in added sugar, so don’t assume that all are a nutritionally equivalent choice to milk. Alternatives made from soy and pea typically offer the higher protein counts in the plant-based category.
Breads, grains and cereal
- Brown rice
- Low-sugar granola and granola bars
- Protein bars
- Sprouted grain bread
- Whole grain cereal
- Whole wheat or whole grain bread, tortillas, pita and English muffins
- Whole wheat pasta (or legume pasta such as chickpea)
- Wild rice
For breads, don’t assume that darker varieties are necessarily healthier. Some brands will add food coloring or molasses to make the bread appear an earthier color. Instead, look for options that say 100% whole wheat, 100% whole grain or 100% sprouted grain. The same thing applies to English muffins and pita bread.
Granola can make a great snack or topping on a yogurt parfait, but many brands in the supermarket are packed with added sugar. Make sure the first ingredient in the granola you choose is a whole grain or whole food (i.e. oats, nuts, bran, legumes, etc). Try to choose options with at least 2 grams of fiber and protein per serving and less than 10 grams of added sugar per serving.
Canned and dry goods
- Canned fish: wild salmon, sardines, white albacore tuna
- Canned light coconut milk
- Canned produce: mandarin oranges, olives, pumpkin, tomatoes
- Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils
- Low-sodium soups and broths
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pistachios, walnuts, natural nut butters
- Shelf stable milk/non-dairy milk
Take special care to look at the nutrition facts label and ingredient list for canned items, especially the sodium counts. If salt intake is something you are watching, try to choose varieties that are low-sodium, reduced sodium or listed as no added salt.
Avoid extra added sugar by choosing fruits that are canned in water instead of juice or syrup. Ideally, look for cans that have BPA-free linings.
Opt for raw, roasted or lightly salted varieties for nuts. For nut butters, always review the ingredient list; you should see nuts and maybe a little salt listed but nothing else. Avoid nut butters with added syrups and sugar sources.
Beverages and condiments
- Beverages: unsweetened iced tea, unsweetened sparkling water, green and herbal tea, ground coffee
- Coconut aminos or reduced-sodium soy sauce
- Hot sauce
- Kimchi (look for lower sodium and lower sugar varieties)
- Low-sodium or reduced-sodium tomato sauce
- Maple syrup
- Nutritional yeast
- Oil and vinegar: apple cider vinegar, avocado oil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, red wine vinegar
- Dried herbs and spices: basil, bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, rosemary, thyme, turmeric
Condiments can be a delicious and simple way to add extra flavor to meals, but many store-bought options can be high in sugar, salt, calories and additives as well. Be sure to take a look at the ingredient list and also note the serving size.
Investing in a variety of high-quality spices is also important for adding both flavor and aroma to dishes without salt or sugar. Use spices before their expiration date for optimal flavor, potency and color.
- Frozen edamame
- Frozen Ezekiel bread
- Frozen healthy meals
- Frozen grains: brown rice, quinoa
- Frozen produce: cherries, berries, mango, peas, broccoli, riced veggies
- Frozen proteins: chicken, turkey, seafood
- Frozen whole grain waffles
Always be sure to check the ingredient list on frozen food, as many options have hidden sources of sodium, added sugar and saturated fat.
When shopping for frozen veggies, look for plain options without added salt, then season them yourself instead. For frozen fruit, look for unsweetened varieties with only 100% frozen fruit in the ingredient list.
Frozen grains can be very easy to prepare, take a fraction of the time to reheat compared to cooking dry grains, and make for a great side dish at practically any meal. Try to avoid breaded and fried foods, as well as frozen meals that are high in sodium.
How to shop for healthy groceries on a budget
Grocery prices have reached a 40-year historic high, with certain staple household items like beef, chicken and coffee seeing tremendous price hikes over the past year. These tips can help save you both time and money if you’re grocery shopping on a budget:
✔️ Shop your fridge and pantry: Savings begin even before you go to the grocery store. Start by shopping what’s already in your pantry and fridge. Take a look at what you have on hand and see if you can get creative in the kitchen and make meals from — or at least including — those canned goods or frozen foods. Knowing what’s in your pantry will also help you avoid buying duplicates.
✔️ Shop with a list: Determine how many meals you’ll need to prepare for the week, and make your shopping list accordingly. You’ll be able to stick to a plan once you get to the store and reduce impulse buys.
✔️ Visit the supermarket midweek: Try shopping in the middle of the week, as that’s when grocery stores tend to restock their shelves and mark down what didn’t sell from the week before.
✔️ Be strategic about bulk shopping: Buying items in bulk can give you a better price per unit — but only if you actually use them. While it may be tempting to stock up, consider whether you consume each item regularly, and check expiration dates so nothing will go to waste.
✔️ Browse all levels of shelving: Store shelf placement matters, and you may be paying a premium for items that are set at eye level; they tend to be the most expensive options. Look at the higher and lower shelves for better prices, with many generic options being stocked on the lower shelves.
✔️ Practice “first in, first out”: As you unpack your groceries, move older products to the front of the fridge/freezer/pantry, and put new products in the back. This way, you’re more likely to use up the older foods before they spoil (which saves money and reduces waste!).
✔️ Consider a rebate or coupon app: Services like Ibotta provide free cash-back rewards for a huge number of grocery retailers. You can scan the barcodes at the store to find out if there are any rebates available, or just save your receipt and upload an image to the app to get cash back. If you frequent the same grocery store every week, it’s worth finding out whether or not the store offers a loyalty card or app with rewards and coupons. It’s in a store’s best interest to keep you coming back, so many will offer loyal customers exclusive deals on their app.
Utilizing these tips can help save you a considerable amount of money when shopping for healthy groceries. You can start with just one food category or one tip as you navigate the supermarket and then add more strategies as you start creating healthier habits.
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